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Environmental Egalitarianism and 'Who do you Save?' Dilemmas

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Some critics have understood environmental egalitarianism to imply that human and animal lives are generally equal in value, so that killing a human is no more objectionable than killing a dog. This charge should be troubling for anyone with egalitarian sympathies. I argue that one can distinguish two distinct versions of equality, one based on the idea of equal treatment, the other on the idea of equally valuable lives. I look at a lifeboat case where one must choose between saving a human and saving a dog, and using the work of Peter Singer and Tom Regan, I show why equality understood as equal treatment does not entail that lifeboat cases are moral toss-ups. But the view that all lives are equally valuable does entail this, and so egalitarians should reject this alternative account of equality. The upshot is that egalitarians need to be more careful about distinguishing between these two versions of equality. The failure to insist on this distinction has led many to believe that egalitarianism generally has counter-intuitive implications when in fact only one version of egalitarianism has this problem.
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Keywords: consideration; dilemma; egalitarianism; treatment; value

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1997-08-01

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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